It happened again last night: the Orioles lost a baseball game in which their starting pitcher was below average, forcing the offense to win the game. They couldn’t do it, falling 4-3 to the Rangers in Arlington.
This time it was Kevin Gausman. He went five innings and allowed four runs. If he did that every game, he would have a 7.20 ERA. It is a formula that has worked so far for the O’s. Through 69 games, they sit at 40-29 in first place in the American League East. But the pitching rotation cannot continue to be this awful. If it does, the Birds would be hard-pressed to make the playoffs and they would have no shot at winning the World Series.
The 2016 season
The Orioles have used just seven starting pitchers so far, but the numbers are not pretty. Here are their statistics when they start the ball game:
As a unit, they have an ERA of 4.97, the 27th-ranked number in all of Major League Baseball. The only three teams worse are the Rockies (5.15), Athletics (5.18) and Twins (5.61). That is the company the O’s pitchers are in. Those three teams are all below .500 and will, in all likelihood, be watching the playoffs from home come October.
This is despite Chris Tillman putting together a really impressive season thus far. He has a chance to be an all-star, but advanced metrics suggest he is due for a slight drop in form (.263 BABIP, 4.05 FIP, 3.91 xFIP, 83.9 LOB%). What will the O’s do if/when that happens?
Pitching wins championships...most of the time
The Royals thumbed their noses at the idea that you needed at least one elite starting pitcher to win the World Series. Their rotation was mediocre all season as they finished 2015 with 4.34 ERA, which was the highest mark of any team that made the playoffs last year, but it is still 0.63 runs lower the O’s current number.
Here is the full list of 2015 playoff teams and their rotation’s regular season ERA:
Cardinals - 2.99 (1st in MLB)
Dodgers - 3.24 (2nd)
Cubs - 3.36 (3rd)
Mets - 3.44 (4th)
Pirates - 3.53 (5th)
Astros - 3.71 (8th)
Blue Jays - 3.96 (12th)
Yankees - 4.25 (19th)
Rangers - 4.32 (21st)
Royals - 4.34 (22nd)
Kansas City also finished their World Series-winning regular season with the lowest-ranked (22nd) pitching staff of any team to take home the crown this century.
Here is that full list of the recent World Series champs, their regular season starter’s ERAs and the MLB rank for them:
The only other team during that time period that is even close to the 2016 Orioles awful number is the 2000 Yankees (4.87 ERA), but that was in the midst of the steroid era where everyone was juicing and balls were flying out of the park left and right. During this current time in baseball where pitching is en vogue, they have to do a better job.
These are the situations where the Orioles poor drafting and questionable trade decisions have left them in a tough spot.
In recent years, the O’s have dealt away Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies and Eduardo Rodriguez: three MLB level players. Not that those deals did not make sense at the time (Andrew Miller was vital for the 2014 squad and Arrieta would never have won a Cy Young in Baltimore), but they still happened.
They have signed guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo to free agent deals, giving up draft picks in the process.
And they have drafted guys like D.J. Stewart, who, as a college outfielder, was expected to move through the system quickly. Instead, he has a .230 batting average with Delmarva and has just four home runs this season, one year after being selected in the first round out of Florida State.
There is no one in the system to jump into the major league rotation and they have few pieces worth dealing that would bring back a significant return without further crippling the already barren cabinet that is their minor league teams.
Given that it is still so early, few teams will be looking to chalk up the season as a loss and start selling off pieces, but it may happen soon for some rebuilding organizations.
- Jeremy Hellickson - an uninspiring choice. The 30-year-old has a 4.41 ERA for the rebuilding Phils. He is a former Rookie of the Year who knows how to pitch in the AL East.
- Andrew Cashner - 2016 has not been his year. Over 11 starts he has a 4.75 ERA, but the Padres stink and this season may have sunk his value enough for the O’s to snag him.
- Tyson Ross - He has been hurt all season, meaning the Padres may be reluctant to deal him at the pit of his value, but again, they are bad and could ship him out
- Rich Hill- the Orioles should have signed him as a free agent anyway, but they didn’t. Now he is killing it with the A’s. But he is 36 and it is a one-year deal so they may not have to give up too much for him.
- The unattainables - Julio Tehran and Sonny Gray. Two aces on bad teams. Tehran has been pretty good. Gray has struggled. Both could be put up for a king’s ransom. The O’s don’t have enough to get this done unless the big prospects are put onto the table: Harvey, Manicini, Mountcastle. Not happening.
Long story, short. The Orioles are in trouble if they continue on with their current set of starters. Tillman will likely remain solid. Gausman has shown enough moments to encourage you, but outside of that it is anybody’s guess. Who knows what to expect from the likes of Gallardo or Wilson? Jimenez is a lost cause. Worley is likely not a starter, but rather a valuable bullpen piece. And Mike Wright should be a late-inning reliever.
This is a talented team who can mash homers and win close games with the lockdown bullpen. But the starting staff is losing too many games for them, and until that changes, the World Series dreams will never be realized.